'Still fighting. Against
very real demons.' he corrected, and if the reach across the table hadn't
been too far, I think he would have pulled my hand up and kissed it. 'And
you're not scrawny enough to be Don Quixote.'
It let me laugh a snort of a laugh, but I had to look away from the fierce
light in his eyes. 'Ok, Sancho... I'm sorry I asked, already. I give.'
But my capitulating didn't stop him; teach me to give him openings. 'You
excel at everything you do because of that tenacity.'
I made a grumbling little noise, hunting for words that would change the
subject, but he tugged at my hand until I met his eyes again.
'I have faith in your strength of spirit,' he said and then let me go.
I watched him spear the last of his salad for a minute. He seemed to be
done, and I was pretty damn glad; I was developing a theory that the human
body can only handle so much blushing before... something bad happens.
Kind of like blowing a fuse on an electrical circuit. I gathered up the
trash from my dinner and rose to take it into the kitchen to throw away.
Passing through the kitchen doorway, behind his back, where I didn't have
to meet that intense, blue-eyed gaze, I stopped.
'That... means a lot to me,' I told him. 'But let's not make a habit of
hashing it over.'
I thought he'd let it go, but there was a quiet chuckle behind me. 'You
'And I learned my lesson,' I muttered, going on into the kitchen before
he could say anything else.
Why do all my warm fuzzies come wrapped up with terminal embarrassment?
I went to drag my carburetor out of the cabinet where I'd hidden it when
Relena came over, to respread it on the smaller kitchen table. I really
needed to have the car running before Monday, just in case Heero needed
to drive separately. With the conference coming up, some of his days had
been spent in places that were not the office, and I'd had to take myself
The blush was even pretty well gone by the time Heero came in to wash
up his dishes. We worked on opposite sides of the kitchen in a silence
that was only tinged with faint awkwardness, before he finished up and
came over to drop a kiss on the top of my head.
'Need a hand?' he asked and I was kind of relieved that he was going to
honor my wishes to drop the previous subject. Sometimes he will, and sometimes
he has to push it.
'Nah, I'm almost done with this part anyway,' I told him, being down to
the reassembly. 'And I'll wait to put it back on until tomorrow, when
I have the light.'
'Ok, I'm going to go check my e-mail while you're working on this then,'
he said, and trailing his fingers across my shoulders as he went, he left
There is a pad of paper and a pencil on the kitchen table, there under
the phone for taking notes. I managed to get four screws put back in place
before the pencil found its way into my hand and there were suddenly a
half a dozen sheets of paper with arching shapes on them, each doodled
with some variation of the theme of alien plant life.
I was pretty sure by sheet number four that the idea was a bad one, but
couldn't quite help poking at it to be sure. The concept was... interesting,
but not as easy as you'd think. What makes a plant a plant? Well... they're
green, usually, and leafy, mostly. There have to be recognizable aspects
or it's not a plant. But in order for it to be alien, those aspects had
to be unrecognizable enough to be, well... alien. I really didn't think
I could pull that off on a canvas the size we were talking about, and
I was sure of that fact when I found myself doodling a vaguely leaf shaped
thing with tiny arms and legs attacking a caterpillar with a dinky little
'What'n hell are you on?' Solo asked from somewhere above my right shoulder,
leaning down from his seat in mid-air to peer at my scraps of paper.
'I dunno,' I muttered. 'But it's apparently not strong enough.'
'Yer way over-thinking this, rat-boy,' he snorted and had he actually
been real, he'd have probably wadded up my scribbles and bounced them
off my head.
'If you've got any better ideas, asshole,' I grumbled at him. 'I'd be
happy to hear them.'
'Tank coulda come up with better'n this crap,' he informed me, and I thought
about shuffling them away so he couldn't see, but that was just kind of
stupid, so I didn't act on the impulse.
'Damn inconvenient, you not being real,' I told him on a sudden thought.
'You could go haunt Mr. Lee and come back and tell me what he really wants
On a whim, I gave the caterpillar some body armor.
'Real cute,' Solo chuckled in his mocking sort of way. 'When'd ya get
all goofball and girly?'
I blew a raspberry, but otherwise chose to ignore him, deciding to shut
up before Heero heard me talking to myself. Though it crossed my mind
to wonder if Solo... I mean, my sub-conscious wasn't trying to tell me
something. Was I thinking too 'light weight'? Maybe the commission needed
to be something more... meaningful?
'Meaningful?' Solo jeered. 'I'm outta here.'
I spared him a wave of my fingers and wondered why he didn't make a noise
when he vanished. Like the comic book characters when they teleported?
Though I suppose as much as he popped in and out, that could get annoying.
I thought the caterpillar needed some sort of weapon with which to defend
himself from the invading leaf creature, but I couldn't figure out how
he'd hold it with nothing but feet. But then... maybe the leaf creature
was just defending itself against being eaten? I mean... don't caterpillars
eat plants? Who was the real bad 'guy' here?
That made me stop and blink stupidly at the little papers littering the
table. I think they constituted 'off track'. With a sigh, I gathered them
up and tossed them in the trash can under the sink. Pretty safe bet that
extraterrestrial plants were a no go. Which left me with what? Golf? Roses?
I abandoned carburetor, caterpillars, and kitchen for my laptop, with
the remembrance of that research I'd planned on doing. There was probably
a lot I could find out about Mr. Lee from the internet. Starting with
what those special roses looked like... just to continue the plant life
It took a little bit of work, 'Jack Lee Roses' just popped up a billion
genealogy sites for more variations on that string of names than I cared
to count. I kept adding words until I wasn't getting any hits at all,
and finally started off in a different direction; finding the site for
the local chapter of the Earth Rose Society, and working my way backward
to my goal.
I should have stuck with the alien veggies... roses are damned complicated.
Floribunda? Grandiflora? Tea? Hybrids? It took a bit of poking around;
Mr. Lee's prize winning pride and joy had been a couple of seasons prior.
The pictures were a little off the main web site... fame is apparently
fleeting, in the circle of horticulture.
I don't know squat about roses, but even I was impressed. The thing was
of the previously mentioned grandiflora variety, and apparently those
suckers could get pretty big. There was a series of professionally posed
(can you 'pose' a flower?) pictures that just sort of made me want to
plant roses all the hell over the property. The blooms were a rich orange,
fading rather abruptly at the edges to white. They looked 'frosted'. The
site had all manner of frou-frou wording about 'rich golden' this and
'kissed' that. It made me roll my eyes just reading it. Wasn't named for
his mother though, unless the woman had had some seriously deranged parents.
The tag proclaimed it to be the 'Jyp-C'. I was actually off looking at
something else before the pun trickled down into my brain. A rose. Named
Jyp-C. Produced by a man named Lee. I wondered just how many people got
the joke? I probably wouldn't have either if Toria hadn't been such a
huge fan of pre-colony edge of weird film, and had forced Hayden and me
to embrace her hobby. I snorted at my own laptop screen, wondering once
again just what in the heck kind of guy Jack Lee really was. Faceted,
Trowa had said.
'What?' Heero asked, appearing suddenly at my side and leaning down to
look at my screen. 'Please tell me you're not planning on replanting the
whole yard in rose bushes?'
'Just trying to figure this Jack Lee guy out,' I told him, scrolling to
show him the head-shot of the man in question, by way of explanation.
I waited while he quickly scanned the text and got the gist of it.
'How in the hell do you produce new colors?' he wondered idly, his brow
furrowed in obvious confusion. It made me think about it and I chuckled.
'Rose dating services?' I quipped and he looked at me oddly. 'No? More
like arranged marriages, then?'
That made him roll his eyes and he reached out to tug at my hand. 'Come
on, it's bed time.'
'You go ahead,' I told him. 'I just want to trace this back a bit more
and see if I can...'
'Oh no,' he cut me off, tugging harder. 'If I leave you alone, you'll
still be down here in the morning researching... God knows; cupcake recipes
Since the tug was rather insistent, I let him pull me away, leaving the
laptop sitting there with roses glowing on the screen. Heero'd obviously
already made the nightly rounds, and he had only to flip the living room
light off before we made our way up the stairs. Though it was quite a
while before we got around to the sleeping part of that bed time thing.
The sweat was still cooling on our skin when I finally made the backward
trace in my head. 'Cupcake... icing... frosting... frosted roses. Heero!
You made a series of random mental leaps; I'm so proud!'
I, perhaps, should have waited to make the joke until his head wasn't
still resting where it was, because the line got me nipped on the thigh.
I nipped back, and it roused him enough from the sleepy, lazy afterglow
to settle us for the night.
The breath stirring the hair on the back of my neck had already started
to even out, when he murmured, 'Love you, baby.'
I snorted softly, but couldn't see his face, 'Love you... cupcake,' I
replied, but he was so far gone he didn't notice. It made me wonder what
about our earlier conversation had brought that term out. It's not one
he uses often. Maybe all that talk about faith and fighting had made him
think back to the accident? I hoped not, I didn't like to think of him
falling asleep with those kinds of thoughts.
Though somewhere in the night, my own memories mated with the talk of
roses and arranged marriages, and I woke in the early hours thinking about
Wufei and his bride again. I suppose it was a change from trying to puzzle
out Mr. Lee, but it was just puzzling of a different flavor, so I'm not
sure I could call it a pleasant change.
Still couldn't get over the notion of taking two little kids and arbitrarily
deciding they should be joined in holy matrimony for some purpose other
than love, or even severe like. Just sounded like the ultimate in 'awkward
moments' if you asked me.
But then I didn't much get the notion of eating things like snails and
fish eggs either, but apparently they're considered lip smacking good
in some corners of the world. So what the hell; maybe there was something
Though... you ever wonder about the first guy to look at a snail and question
if he could eat it?
I think I've mentioned that I seem to need slightly less sleep than Heero,
and on days when we don't have to be somewhere, I tend to rise well ahead
of him. I don't always, but I find if I stay in bed once I'm awake, it
isn't long before I disturb him. Now and again for a little bit of 'morning'
time isn't bad, but most of the time I don't like to feel like I'm keeping
him from getting a good night's sleep. So I slipped out of bed that morning
with my thoughts and puzzles, and went back downstairs to my research,
leaving Heero to sleep in if he could. It was Sunday after all... that
whole, weird ground-bounder 'day of rest' thing.
I think I knew before I was even done in the bathroom, that I wasn't going
to be looking at roses when I got my fingers on my keyboard.
You know that thing called a census? When mankind took off for the stars,
they got even more anal about it. I think, originally, some ground-bound
space-phobic bureaucrat just wanted to be able to point to a definitive
list of the 'the lost' when the colony program failed. And even though
it had ended up thriving, the process had already been set in motion.
So there were detailed records all the way back to the very first launch
of the very first ship carrying the very first colonists off to the very
first colony. And public record, so I didn't even have to do anything
Heero would have frowned on to get at them. Or... would have frowned on
me doing from my own computer.
Wufei himself had inadvertently given me her name once I'd dredged it
up from memory, and I could guess her age based on his. Still took a lot
of digging; the name was not screamingly unique. It was actually Wufei's
comment about her temperament that told me when I'd found the right girl.
And the date of death only verified it.
They used those cheesy class pictures for the kids. I had wandered through
a series of prim and proper young Chinese ladies, dressed in their best
for 'picture day', with not a hair out of place and delicate little smiles
on their faces before I found it.
Long Meilan was neither prim nor proper, glaring out at the photographer
with a look that probably had the man snapping the picture as quick as
he could. Her hair was caught up in practical little pig tails and her
expression told me that she so had better things to be doing with her
time. I could almost hear her asking the man behind the camera 'May I
go now?' in a tone laced with cool disdain. I wanted to laugh at her;
what a spitfire she must have been! And then I wanted to cry, looking
at all that potential. Looking at... at I wasn't quite sure what, really.
Not from just one old photograph.
And maybe that was part of it; if she could speak to me so firmly from
just that one picture, what a force of personality she must have been.
And it made me think about that arranged marriage thing, and think that
maybe it wasn't so damn nuts after all, because if there had ever been
a match for Chang Wufei... I was looking at it. I could stare into those
dark eyes and tell just how she would have grown. How that temper that
burned in that gaze would have matured over time into a tenacity that
would never have allowed for the word 'no'. She would have been beautiful
in that striking way women can be when they just don't care about it.
'Oh, Wufei,' I whispered, touching the screen of my laptop as though I
could bridge the years and grant them the time to grow up. I felt the
grief of his quietly under-stated little 'too late' like I hadn't when
he'd actually said it.
'Duo?' Heero asked, seeming to suddenly appear beside me and I about jumped
out of my skin.
'God,' I gasped. 'Don't do that!'
He spared me a little grimace of apology, but went right ahead sliding
an arm around me. 'What is it, love? You look upset...'
I leaned into him a little; still recovering from the shot of adrenaline
he'd given my heart, and flicked my fingers toward the laptop. He turned
that way, when I didn't elaborate and I waited while he took in the information
in front of him. He's a quick study and it was all right there in black
and white... much faster than my trying to explain it.
'That's Wufei's... betrothed?' he finally asked, voice going all weirdly
reverent and I knew he'd caught at least some of the same feeling I had.
'The colony may be gone,' I told him. 'But the records were central.'
He let go of me to lean in for a closer look. 'I never even thought to
hunt,' he said, sounding kind of guilty for some reason. 'I wonder if
Wufei ever did?'
I didn't answer because... who the hell knew? It wasn't a question that
required a response, but it sure made me think. Made me doubt that Wufei
would welcome having it pointed out to him. Made me wonder if he would
be grateful to have it pointed out to him. I decided it was something
I'd have to think about for a long time before I even thought about bringing
it up to him. Heero noticed the links I hadn't bothered to yet, and clicked
over to a page that contained a different picture. For two seconds I was
confused about how there could exist a picture of Meilan all grown up,
but then I realized it had to be her mother.
It told me just a little bit more what she would have been like if she'd
grown. They looked very much alike; the structure of the features, the
cast to the eyes. Though the elder woman held a certain serenity, I had
no doubt the spirit was there. Then Heero clicked again and we were looking
at the father. And there was that burning fierceness staring back at me.
Meilan might have inherited her mother's looks, but that temper came from
dear old Dad sure as anything. I could imagine that same 'May I go now?'
from the man, only much testier.
Another click and we were looking at Meilan again and Heero muttered softly
'What a waste.' So softly, in fact, that I'm not sure he meant to say
it out loud.
I didn't reply to that either and it made Heero turn to look at me.
'Are you all right?' he asked me gently and I gave him a quirk of a smile.
'Yeah,' I reassured. 'Just... I guess I could see her being one of 'mine',
you know? She's probably Davey's age in that picture. Maybe a little younger.
It's so easy to imagine what she was like.'
He glanced back at the screen and suddenly seemed to be uncomfortable
with the whole thing, because he reached out and closed the window. I
didn't object; I could find it again if I wanted... and I wasn't sure
I wanted. She was already tucked away like a damn memory of somebody I
actually had known.
It left us staring at roses again and Heero sighed. 'You didn't...' he
began but I cut him off with a chuckle.
'Only a couple of hours.' But then I glanced at the clock and realized
it was a bit later than normal. 'You slept late.'
He looked only slightly sheepish. 'You wore me out. Breakfast?'
I smiled my acceptance and he went off to see what he could find. Somehow
Sunday morning breakfast had become a strange little 'thing' with him.
He claimed that I cooked for him every day and he just wanted to return
the favor, but I suspect it was just his way to assure that at least one
day a week my breakfast wasn't a ration bar on the run.
I poked half-heartedly at Jack Lee's life while I waited, but only managed
to verify some time-line issues. Very unlikely that the man harbored any
bitterness over the whole anti-gravity development thing. In fact, he'd
more likely been born with a silver spoon in his mouth, if you know what
I mean. The family had to have been insanely rich by the time he came
along, and looking at the hints of a family tree I could find on-line...
all that money had to have come down to Jack himself. Didn't seem to be
any other 'branch' off his Grandpa's tree.
Guess that pretty much answered the question of what Jack Lee did for
a 'living'; what ever the fuck he wanted.
By the time Heero called me in to breakfast, I'd decided that I was tired
of roses, murals and pasts all the way around. I was just getting ready
to shut my laptop down when my 'new message' notification chimed at me.
When the message downloaded from Wufei, I had a truly bizarre moment of
horrified guilt that he somehow knew that I'd been poking around in his
private affairs. I almost snickered out loud when it only proved to be
the list of gardening supplies he'd promised me. I sent it off to the
upstairs printer, then finished shutting down; determined to get something
accomplished that didn't involve a keyboard and mouse.
Breakfast was oatmeal and toast with fresh fruit on the side, and I accepted
it without any fuss. Yeah, it was a ridiculous amount of food, but I'd
figured out the Sunday morning thing was something special for Heero and
I didn't want to ruin it. I wasn't sure what the deal was entirely, but
Heero was always rather affectionate about the whole thing. Hell, we both
happened to still be barefoot, and the guy even sat and rubbed his toes
over mine under the table. I'd figure it out some day, but I didn't want
to risk spoiling it by asking.
'So,' I ventured when we got to the you wash, I'll dry part, 'fancy a
trip to the home improvement store this afternoon?'
'The center of all things gadgety?' Heero grinned. 'What do we need now?
I thought we already owned one of everything?'
I threatened him with the tail of the dish towel but didn't follow through
since he was armed with suds; never go against a projectile weapon with
a close range one. 'Hardly. We haven't even scratched the surface of the
'I'm not even sure what we need...' he began, but stopped at my wide grin.
'I got recommendations from an expert; Wufei sent me a shopping list!'
'Why do I think I should be scared?' he dead-panned, and I went ahead
and snapped the towel in his general direction.
'We've got to get all the crap cleaned out from around the foundation,'
I told him. 'Hell... that's probably part of what's attracting the critters.
And we need to be thinking about a lawn mower...'
'Couldn't we just hire the kid down the street?' he asked, draining the
dish water and rinsing his hands.
'I thought you wanted to save money to have the kitchen redone, lazy?'
I said, poking him in the ribs until he gave enough ground that I could
open the cabinet door and hang the towel up.
'How much could it cost?' he grumbled.
'Too much,' I smirked and it made him laugh.
'Of course,' I sniffed disdainfully. 'I had to weigh the cost options.'
He snorted and hooked an arm around my waist to pull me in for a quick
kiss. 'Well, regardless, I can't go anyway... I have to go in to the office
I kissed him back and sighed. 'I'll be damn glad when this stupid conference
is over. What is it this time? All the department heads want to synchronize
He gave me a mock glare and shook his head. 'Not sure yet; the L4 delegate
is suddenly throwing a hissy fit about the safety precautions. Wufei and
I are meeting with his head of security to go over their concerns.'
My abrupt burst of laughter caught him completely by surprise. 'You can
thank Quatre; he must have gotten around to telling the guy he wasn't
staying at his place,' I explained, stifling my chuckles against Heero's
'Damn it,' he grumbled, sounding about half serious. 'Why the hell do
you know more than I do about my job?'
'I have connections,' I teased and he just shook his head, letting me
go as I headed off in search of shoes and socks. I hadn't even made it
out the kitchen door when I heard him open the cabinet door and there
was a sharp intake of breath.
'Damn it, Duo!' he said, in such a tone of exasperation that I about gave
myself whiplash turning around to see what I'd done wrong. I was not expecting
to see him fishing in the trash can like I'd thrown away his badge and
gun. Even less was I expecting to see him come up with a handful of papers,
glaring at me like I'd thrown away kittens. 'How could you...' he began
but then just kind of petered out with an incoherent sound of frustration.
He took the papers over to the table and spread them out, checking them
for... something. Damage, I guess.
It took me a minute to even figure out what they were; I couldn't remember
throwing anything away that I thought would bother him. When I stepped
in to look, he was reverently brushing crumbs off a Martian begonia. 'Oh
for God's sake...' I muttered. 'Heero, those are trash... just stupid
doodles I made trying to work an idea out.'
He looked like he was going to launch into an argument, but suddenly just
looked stubborn, changing tactics. 'Well, I saved them so they're mine
It left me blinking at him. Did he think I was going to snatch them out
of his hands or something? Were we five years old to go scrabbling around
on the kitchen floor fighting over...
Ok, that brought back a mental image I didn't really want to be having,
so I just shook my head. 'Ok,' I assured him. 'If you really want the
He smiled, a hint of sheepishness to it, and went back to studying the
little sketches. I watched him look for a minute, before going back to
my quest for shoes.
Art was an area where I don't think Heero and I will ever see eye to eye.
Just the term itself made me uncomfortable. 'Art' like it was some high-falutin'
big deal thing, instead of just something I did in my spare time. That
he was perfectly capable of having a ten minute, absent minded doodle
of an armored caterpillar matted and framed just because it was something
I'd done, was... embarrassing.
Ok, and maybe just a little bit sweet, not that I'd admit that even under
torture. If I encouraged the man, he'd be unbearable.
I put on my work boots, and a pair of my coveralls as well, since I was
going to be elbow deep in my engine for the next hour or so. By the time
I had my tools and carburetor together, Heero was on his way out the door
too, to head into town. We walked outside together and he gave me a quick
kiss goodbye right there on the porch. It was still an odd little rush
that we could do things like that; at the old apartment, there were just
too many people around. People who could be shocked sometimes. It still
made me just a touch uneasy, but it was kind of balanced by the warmth
of being able to.
'When do you think you'll be home?' I asked as we made our way down the
'Not sure,' he sighed. 'This could end up taking awhile. Since we have
to go in anyway, I think I'd like to get some of the paperwork caught
up that has gotten neglected while we concentrated on the conference.
If you decide to go down to the garden center, don't wait for me.'
I grinned at him widely, hoping it hid the tiny twinge of disappointment.
'I'll be sure to take the credit card,' I teased and he poked me in the
ribs before stepping toward his car.
'We're saving money for the kitchen, remember?'
'I'm not the one with the problem with the kitchen,' I smiled and he just
rolled his eyes.
'I'll see you when I get home,' he told me. 'I'll call if we decide to
make an evening of it.'
I waved him off and tried not to think bad thoughts about politicians,
counsel meetings, or the Preventers in general. I was getting kind of
tired of the lot of them mucking up what was supposed to be our time off.
It took me less than an hour to get the carburetor put back on, and then
I took my shopping list and took off for the home improvement store.
And yes, the ax really was on my list. Wufei put it there. That or a chainsaw,
and the ax was a hell of a lot cheaper. I didn't get everything on his
list; the lawn mower could wait a little longer, and was a big enough
purchase that I didn't want to make it without Heero. But I went ahead
and got what I felt like we were going to need for at least the next couple
of weeks. It was getting to be pretty damn obvious that Heero wasn't going
to have a lot of free time until after the conference, to go shopping.
There really are a lot of tools out there designed expressly for chopping
things up. Axes and shears, clippers and hatchets, saws and weed whackers.
Like... industrial strength confetti makers. I limited myself to the ax
and a pruning saw for the purposes of taking down the dead apple tree,
and a pair of hand clippers for the smaller jobs around the yard. A rake,
a shovel, an economy size box of trash bags, some work gloves and a little
hand spade took me over the vague 'budget' I'd had in mind, but I still
ended up buying some chain to fix the porch swing. Then on the way through
the check-out couldn't quite resist the book on the care and feeding of
your average rose garden. Needed to figure out that whole roses-on-the-fence-row
thing, so my neighbor didn't wind up hating me for killing them.
And then I went to wage war.
Ok, so it was more like a tentative foray into enemy territory for the
purposes of reconnaissance. And maybe some hostage taking. If only gross,
rotting leaves would fall to the pressures of dire threats to their brethren.
I had really had no idea what a disgusting, slimy, crawling eco system
existed under those self-same leaves. I'd have to remember to thank Wufei
for thinking about noting the work gloves, because I have no doubt my
spacer soul would have been other-wise traumatized by wading in there
without. It took all bloody damn afternoon to rake the crap out and bag
it up just down the north side of the house.
I get the whole 'circle of life' thing, ok? I understand that the birds
have to eat, and that they will elsewhere be on the receiving end of that,
right on up the chain. I get the part where when things die, without being
the afore-mentioned appetizer, that you don't just want them lying around
rotting forever and that's where the bugs come in on the other end of
things. I get the concept, I really, really do. But, seriously, what deity
decided that there needed to be so damn many different varieties of bugs,
and that they had to be so... crawly?
I hadn't been working an hour before I just wanted a damn shower.
I entertained myself for a good chunk of the afternoon, trying to figure
out just what would have to be nailed down in order to vent our entire
property to vacuum. Given that it was possible, of course. If I could
put an airlock in next to the willow tree or something.
That led to a mental picture of zero gravity dancers amid a swirl of autumn
leaves and I actually contemplated it for my commission for about two
minutes before I realized it would just end up looking like a damn self-portrait.
Or that's what people would think anyway.
Solo kept me dubious company for part of the day, sitting on the back
steps or hovering nearby. Sometimes offering suggestions and sometimes
idly singing something that wouldn't quite come clear in my head, though
I was sure I heard the word 'lumberjack' a couple of times. He was quite
smugly pleased with himself, though I suppose that pretty much describes
his mood most of the time. Or it did. He quit when I started singing the
spider song back at him... he used to hate spiders.
It was getting pretty late by the time I attacked the actual apple tree,
using my spiffy new pruning saw to hack off a couple of smaller limbs
just to see how it would go. It was getting too dark to do anything major,
but I suppose I couldn't quite resist the lure. Never cut down a tree
before, dead or otherwise. It didn't take long to figure out that it was
going to be a lot of work. And pretty messy. The thing didn't really look
that big, but just the few limbs I cut off quickly turned into a pile
of brush that was going to have to be bagged or bundled or otherwise disposed
And apparently dead wood is hard. Or maybe apple tree wood is. Or dead
apple tree wood is? Whatever the combination, by the time Heero got home,
my arm was getting damn tired, and I was sweating my butt off despite
how the temperature was dropping with the sun.
I heard him pull up, of course, and stopped to watch him climb out of
the car and head my way. I saw him eying my mound of trash bags and could
see the vaguely guilty look from clear across the yard.
When he got closer, I could see more than the guilt; he looked tired.
Physical labor can wear you out, but there's something about the sort
of administrative crap he had to have been dealing with all day that can
just wear you down.
'I'm sorry...' he began, when he was close enough, and I'm not sure if
he was apologizing for forgetting to call, leaving me alone with the bugs,
or just the whole big job thing, but I cut him off with a wide grin and
wide open arms.
'Come any closer and you'll be sorry for something else entirely,' I smirked,
flaunting my filthy, sweaty, utterly disgusting self at him.
It brought him up short, and he eyed me up and down from a safe distance.
'Did you clean out the flower beds, or wallow in them?' he asked, his
answering smile kind of wan, but enough to tell me I'd derailed the guilt
'Wallowed,' I informed him, tossing the saw aside and stalking toward
him. 'I wanted to share the full experience with you.'
He took an almost involuntary step back and actually looked a bit alarmed.
I looked him over, decided he wasn't wearing anything that wouldn't wash,
and said the hell with it.
The tackle surprised a burst of laughter from him that he quelled quickly
in order to meet the kiss. I drew back and grinned down at him triumphantly;
he looked pretty damn good lying in the grass all wide-eyed like that.
'Duo,' he said, in that husky voice I could never quite match. 'You reek.
I flopped down full length on top of him and squirmed like a puppy. 'Yes,
but now you do to.'
'Brat,' he grumbled, and dug his fingers into my side until I gave ground.
With a buck and a shove, he reversed our positions and I found myself
sprawled in the grass with him sitting on top of me.
I think we were both too tired for any serious wrestling, and when I didn't
struggle, he just sort of sat back and looked around as best he could
in the near dark. The melancholy look stole back across his face and I
sighed and gave in to his need to apologize.
'You got a lot of work done today,' he said. 'I'm sorry I wasn't here
'Well it's not like you were off playing cards or something,' I teased,
then gave him a mock glare. 'Were you?'
'I wish,' he snorted and stopped looking at the yard to lean down and
look at me. 'Senator Rackham is turning out to be a major pain in the
I was trying to decide between the obvious crude come-back and something
more sympathetic, when a somewhat high pitched voice sang out, 'There
they are! They're outside! Hey, Mr. Duo!'
If I have moved faster in my life, I don't ever remember doing it. And
Heero must have been moving just as fast, or I'd have thrown his ass clear
across the yard in my efforts to get off the ground. And out from under
'Uh... hello, Ruthie,' I managed, after a moment of mentally convincing
myself that my clothes did not need to be straightened.
'See Mom?' she piped up. 'I told you it wasn't too late!'
I must have made a noise that sounded... amusing, because Heero gave out
with a funny little cough that was a lame attempt to cover a snicker.
'Well this is humiliating,' I growled under my breath, but he just gave
me a smug little smile.
'As I recall, you're the one who started it,' he replied, keeping his
voice just as soft, but then Ruthie and her Mom were too close and all
I could do was smile.
'Mrs. Rubin, I presume?' Heero greeted our neighbor, so smoothly that
I just wanted to kick him. Did nothing fluster the guy? I could feel my
own face still flaming like a bed of hot coals, and it was weirdly irritating
that Heero was calmly smiling and shaking the woman's hand.
'That's Mr. Heero!' Ruthie supplied and I stuck my own hand out on cue
when the kid got to the 'And that's Mr. Duo!' part.
'So nice to finally meet you,' Mrs. Rubin said somewhat... enthusiastically,
and it made me realize that, had she noticed the whole frolicking in the
grass thing, she probably hadn't been surprised. Guess the likelihood
of the woman having seen any one of several news reports lately were pretty
high. Almost certainly would have more than clued her in to the... uh...
living arrangements of her new neighbors.
There was part of me that wanted to be relieved that she didn't seem overly
shocked by the idea, but it was warring with the part that was still smarting
over something that private having gotten attached to the line 'film at
eleven'. Not that I suppose I had been all that far into the closet, but
it's kind of nice when things like that are a conscious choice and not
part of tonight's top story.
I missed some of the niceties and was brought back to planet Earth when
Ruthie began waving a sheet of paper in my face. '... so would you like
I almost laughed out loud when I realized we'd finally gotten around to
the Girl Scout cookie thing. 'Sure,' I told her, and Heero gestured the
group of us over toward the front porch.
'Oh, we can't stay,' Mrs. Rubin said, even while she followed Heero's
lead. Ruthie and I brought up the rear, me looking at the chart I'd been
given, and Ruthie extolling the virtues of various flavors of cookies.
In between having the term 'Tagalong' explained to me and being told which
cookie was the favorite of every member of Ruthie's family, I heard Mrs.
Rubin comment on 'what we'd done to the old place'. I missed catching
which cookie Ruthie's best friend's dog was fond of, while I listened
to Heero gracefully give me credit for most of the work. Mrs. Rubin turned
to me then, coloring faintly, and seemed to notice her daughter talking
my ear off for the first time. It wasn't clear if her discomfort was from
the babbling, or just me in general. I hoped to God the woman wasn't going
to indulge in some sort of 'celebrity' weirdness.
'Ruthie,' she admonished, though she was still looking at me and not her
daughter. 'Give the poor man a chance to make up his mind. I'm sure he's
seen Girl Scout cookies before!'
I didn't bother setting her straight on that score; wouldn't know a Girl
Scout cookie from a Boy Scout cookie. Assuming there was such a thing.
I almost asked, but then realized that it was probably one of those things
that would make people look at me funny. We'd arrived at the steps and
apparently an understanding had been reached somewhere while I'd been
listening to the history of peanut butter, and we weren't inviting them
in. So I sat on the steps and filled out the sheet against my knee.
'It is just so nice that the house isn't empty any more,' Mrs. Rubin was
telling Heero, still looking weirdly flushed, not seeming to know quite
what to do with her hands. 'It was such a beautiful place before Trishie
'Trishie?' I heard myself ask almost incredulously. Somehow, in trying
to make up my mind how the former owner had been called, I'd settled on
'Pat' in my head. Trishie... was not keeping with the mental images I'd
Mrs. Rubin kind of giggled, seeming suddenly to be embarrassed by the
sound. She flushed even deeper and her hands fluttered up to tuck her
hair behind her ear. 'Oh, she always insisted that her name was Patricia,
she hated being called Patty, so Les would make up these outlandish names
and somehow Trishie stuck. It just drove her crazy, but then the kids
picked it up and...' she kind of shrugged, maybe fearing that it sounded
like they'd all been mean to the poor little old lady. 'I don't know...
I guess that made it all right, because she started referring to herself
'You knew her pretty well?' I asked, and probably sounded just a bit too
hopeful. It made her duck her head and she seemed to be watching her own
hands smooth over the hem of her blouse.
'Oh yes,' she smiled, losing a bit of the strange giggliness, and turning
just a bit nostalgic. 'She was such a dear. They both were. Treated the
kids like their own grandkids. They used to come down for Christmas dinner
'They did?' Ruthie wanted to know, looking wide eyed. 'I don't remember!'
Her mother looked at her fondly. 'You were just a baby, sweetie.'
'I don't suppose you have any pictures of the house?' I had to ask, hoping
it wasn't too bold a thing. 'Especially the yard?'
I needn't have worried, Mrs. Rubin fairly beamed. 'Of course! Why, the
yard was the showcase of the neighborhood! Trishie was forever taking
pictures of the kids in front of the flowers and the willow.'
'I'd love to see them,' I said, probably a bit too enthusiastically, and
added on a hasty, 'if it's not too much trouble.'
'No trouble at all,' she assured me. 'I'll hunt them up and bring them
'We'd appreciate it,' Heero interjected, and shifted his foot up a step
in a clear signal that he was ready to go in the house. It surprised me;
it wasn't really like him, and told me that his day really had been pretty
'Come on Ruthie,' Mrs. Rubin said dutifully. 'We need to get down to the
Tikemeyer's before it gets any later.'
I handed over the cookie sign-up sheet and Ruthie looked at it before
grinning at me blindingly. 'Wow! Thanks, Mr. Duo!'
'No problem, kiddo,' I told her and watched her skip down the steps to
take her mother's hand. Mrs. Rubin seemed glad to have something to do
with herself, and she said her goodbyes with that weird flushed look again.
We had neighbors named Tikemeyer?
'Duo,' Heero asked, stretching a hand out to help me to my feet. 'Just
how many boxes of those cookies did you order?'
'Uh... ten?' I told him sheepishly.
'What in the hell are we going to do with ten boxes of cookies?' he wanted
'Don't worry,' I snorted. 'I'll take them in to work. The guys are always
bringing stuff in and putting it out by the coffee station. I've felt
kind of bad for never having anything anyway.'
He rolled his eyes, but dropped it, following me around back and helping
me pick up the tools to take in the house. We had a small shed near the
south edge of the property, but had yet to replace the rusted old lock,
so didn't use it.
'So you never got around to telling me about Rackham,' I prodded, wanting
to know just what had him so beat. 'Quatre said he was a bit 'old school'.'
'Well Quatre is too polite,' Heero grumbled. 'The man is archaic to the
point of pain. If he could pull in armored swat teams, I think he'd do
He went on, in that vein, as we took ourselves and my new assortment of
tools into the house, dumping them on the counter in my back room until
we could deal with them properly. He'd obviously had a frustrating day
and I offered a sympathetic ear while he vented. He doesn't very often,
though I've never been sure how much of that had to do with the Preventers'
lame-ass 'security clearance' deal, and how much was just his natural
inclination to shield me from all annoyances.
I herded us through the house to the bathroom, listening to him growl
about what a waste of time the entire day had been. It was there that
I figured out just what it was that had made Mrs. Rubin so damn giggly.
Probably wasn't the 'famous' status of her neighbors, but more likely
the half pound of grass stuck in my hair. I huffed at Heero, but he was
so engrossed in the telling of his day that he didn't even notice, and
I let it go. Don't suppose there was much he could have done about it
anyway, and I suppose I had started it. Though it would have been nice
if he'd at least told me I looked like an idiot.
I got him stripped and pulled into the shower with me while he explained
the ridiculous demands Rackham's aid had made on his boss's behalf. Washed
his hair while he told me some of the things Wufei had suggested they
do to meet those demands that involved duct tape and the shipping of dignitaries
to South Seas islands. Uninhabited ones. By the time I'd enticed him into
scrubbing my back, he'd worked it out of his system and then I proceeded
to work it completely out of his mind.
We really needed to price a bigger water heater.
Later, after we'd eaten and fallen into bed, and said the hell with everything
else, I lay listening to his breathing and tried to decide if I should
be elated that he'd felt he could unburden himself to me like that, or
depressed that he didn't do it any more often.
I had come to understand his protective streak where I was concerned,
but it didn't alter the fact that I felt like I'd healed past the need.
I wondered sometimes if he would ever achieve that same kind of healing.
Monday arrived with a set of sore muscles and an annoyance for the day
that, once upon a time, I had not understood. Ground-bounder time structure
is just rife with those sorts of manufactured, self-imposed irritants.
In space, a day is a day is a... well, a cycle; we're structured around
a whole different set of rules and nothing makes me miss that quite like
the glare of Monday morning.
Heero was oddly quiet the next morning as we did the bathroom dance, brushing
teeth and washing up around each other. It left me with a kind of pensive
feeling, worrying that he might be regretting the talk of the previous
evening. I was rather relieved to come up from rinsing my face to find
myself caught up from behind.
'Was I whining last night?' he asked, a shamefaced little smile trying
to break out. It made me laugh right out loud, trying to put the words
'Yuy' and 'whining' together in the same sentence.
'Venting,' I corrected. 'It's a much more manly term.'
He settled his chin on my shoulder and watched my reflection dry its face.
'Was I venting too much?'
I took a moment to regard his reflection in turn. 'I thought you were
sharing. Sharing is good.'
He smiled softly, but couldn't quite help saying, 'It felt like whining.'
I twisted my head and kissed his cheek, it tasted vaguely of shaving cream.
'You've listened to me often enough.'
He sighed. 'Duo, you never complain about anything.'
I turned completely in his arms and tried to keep from rolling my eyes.
'God, you are so... besotted.'
I got the little, slightly smirky smile that usually leads us to the bedroom.
'Can't help it... I just love a man in coveralls.'
I snorted and straightened his collar while I was right there in his personal
space anyway. 'You are never coming into the garage again, Yuy. That just
gives me all kinds of creepy mental images.'
'Griff is totally not my type,' he dead-panned, and ducked out of the
bathroom before I had time to retaliate where there were things close
at hand like shaving cream and wet wash clothes.
My already iffy mental image stripped gears; Griff hadn't even been on
my radar. 'Ewww! You asshole! How am I supposed to even look at the man
today?' I called down the stairs after him, but he only laughed.
I went to finish getting dressed because it was time to leave for work.
As I had half expected, we ended up having to drive separately. I didn't
complain, but I find I rather miss the morning if we can't go together.
It's sort of an enforced quiet time when we can talk without a lot of
distractions. Though, the mood he was in, maybe it was just as well; if
he started the boxers/briefs speculation about my boss, I'd have probably
punched him, and there would have been an accident, and the whole morning
would have just been shot to hell.
While most of the Preventer organization was all a twitter and involved
in some way, shape or form with the conference, it didn't impact the garage
all that much. We didn't have a lot to do with security until after the
fact, when the bullet holes were being patched and brakes being replaced.
Preventer agents, for the record, are damn hard on brakes for some reason.
So while Heero, Wufei, God and HR only knew how many others were gearing
up for the week from hell, I was settling in to a typical Monday morning.
With nothing more interesting than a transmission job on the docket. Almost
felt like cheating somehow.
I started the morning in the bay between Giles and Dave, pulling a ruptured
radiator and listening with half an ear to them talking about taxes and
bills and something somebody's kid had done. I thought they were just
generally bitching about the cost of something, and wasn't paying that
much attention. Turned out to be something sports oriented, and if I'd
been listening, I might have anticipated it when they turned the conversation
around to a different sports topic.
'Hey Duo,' Giles suddenly called. 'Softball practice starts in a couple
of weeks, are you sure we can't talk you into signing up? They're still
looking for a left fielder.'
Because, had I anticipated it, I might not have replied, 'But I'm right
handed,' quite so seriously.
Dave laughed anyway, but Giles stepped out from under the car he had up
on the rack to look at me. It made me realize it was one of those stupid
statements, so I grinned cheekily and hoped he'd think I was joking.
'You don't know how to play, do you?' Giles asked, blowing the idea out
of the water. I sighed and gave in to the inevitable.
'L2 wasn't real big into organized sports,' I told him dryly. 'We were
more into... uh... keep-away and hide and seek.'
'We used to play hide and seek,' I heard Dave muse almost to himself,
and Giles rolled his eyes at me theatrically, making me snicker. Dave's
a great guy, but not always real quick on the uptake.
'If you'd come out and watch the games more often,' Giles said, ignoring
Dave's trip down memory lane, 'you'd figure it out... it's not exactly
I was totally not getting into my weird intrusion issues with him, and
just shrugged. 'Oh yeah... a bunch of grown men chasing each other around
with a little white ball; sounds fascinating.'
He snorted, but stepped back under the car and went back to work.
'You oughta go to a couple of practices with Yuy,' Dave tossed in helpfully.
'Dave...' Giles warned, and Dave came out from under the hood of the Dodge
he was working on to glare over my head at Giles.
'Hey, it ain't easy fittin' in to something like that!' he grumbled. 'I'm
just sayin' it might be easier on Duo to kind of work up to it, is all.'
Then he rattled around and pulled something out of his toolbox before
going back to work. Left me and Giles both staring at him. Guy came out
with stuff a little closer to the mark than you'd expect sometimes.
Since everybody else had gone back to work, I did too and let the conversation
drift back to pee-wee soccer, whatever in the hell that was. Suppose Dave
might have a point, as much as it pained me to admit it. I'd actually
been dreading the start of the new season just because of the weird...
issues, Heero and I had over it. Or I had over it. The previous season
had come around while I'd been, in Heero's estimation, not up to it. Or,
as he'd put it, 'not up to sitting in the hot sun'. Which sort of implied
that maybe he expected me to go this season, being more 'up to it'. But
he hadn't actually asked. And I suspect he wouldn't, even if he wanted
me to go... not wanting to push. But if he didn't want me to go, he also
wouldn't ask... would he?
I really have no idea why that one area had become something that loomed
so much on the horizon. I think because softball had been something that
Heero and Wufei had been doing together for some time before I ever came
back into the picture, so my inserting myself into the middle of it felt
kind of... weird. Not that actually playing was even a possibility. Well...
maybe not an impossibility, if you know what I mean... I'm fairly confident
that I could probably figure it out. But... not somewhere I was willing
to go. Watching from some hypothetical bleachers was one thing; suiting
up and playing would take 'intrusion' to a whole new level.
But anyway, back on Dave's track... maybe dropping by and watching a couple
of practices might not be such a hideously bad idea? Less risk of embarrassing
Heero if I at least watched enough to know what was going on. And maybe
just a little bit of reassurance in Wufei's direction that I wasn't planning
on taking up their sport.
Not that he'd ever said anything; I'm reasonably sure that the obsessive
worrying at the notion like a psychotic rat terrier with a chew toy, was
all in my own head, but... best to be on the safe side.
Sometimes I suspect I could benefit from a hamster in charge of neurotic
fixations. Not that I needed another one; maybe George could take it up
as a side-job? Thank God the rodents can't unionize.
I finished the radiator replacement and did a couple of oil changes that
morning, deciding to leave the transmission for the afternoon. It was
a much bigger job and would probably not be done by quitting time, but
I'd decided I might just clock out and finish it anyway. No rush to get
home; Heero and Wufei would be staying at the convention complex for the
duration of the conference, so it's not like I had anything to go home
to. Except maybe possums.
I was just putting my tools away, getting ready to head out for lunch
when I felt a strange tension fill the garage. There is always noise in
the bay, the sounds of tools and talk, engines and motors, so I'm not
going to say things went suddenly silent, but there was a definite change
as voices stilled. I glanced up and realized that everybody around me
was doing the same; noticing a change and looking to see what was up.
I followed the gazes to see that the garage had a visitor. And after a
second, I could feel some of those same gazes shifting to me as well.
The guy sitting in the wheel chair just outside Griff's office was not
somebody I had ever expected to see again.
Mickey. He of the over-loaded engine hoist. He of the attitude. He of
the missing leg. I honestly can't tell you what I felt, looking at the
kid. I think the first thought was something vague about wishing I'd left
for lunch about five minutes sooner. After that was just a strange mix
of discomfort, guilt, pity, irritation and more guilt for feeling irritated.
Then I realized that the whole damn crew was waiting to see what I was
going to do.
It was something of a jolt. A weird little jolt. Not like I'm some sort
of damn foreman, or team leader or any other thing that made me any sort
of 'go to' guy. I was not used to having people follow my lead in what
amounted to a social situation. Kind of sucked, to be honest. I sure as
hell wasn't going to be able to just quietly slip out the side door.
It took me a couple of seconds to mentally step away and admit that if
it had been anybody else sitting there, any other fellow mechanic showing
up after having been hurt on the job, that we'd all have been over there
crowding around him and asking questions. But somehow all the guys were
holding back and making it my call.
Mickey was not exactly the prodigal son returned. He'd never been anybody's
But... right is right and wrong is wrong, and sometimes what you feel
has nothing to do with it.
So I tossed aside the rag I'd been wiping tools down with, and started
walking across the bay. Never mind that I just wanted to kick a couple
of co-workers for essentially making me the point man on something I'd
have sooner not have dealt with. Never mind that the stare I was getting
from Mickey made it unlikely that it was going to be a welcome conversation.
I noticed two things as I made that trek; there was an older man in the
boss's office, talking to Griff in a serious looking way, and that once
I started moving... so did the rest of the guys.
At least they were going to back me up.
Not that Mickey looked like he was exactly up to wrestling me to the ground
or anything. It had been months since the accident, but... the kid didn't
really look like he'd come to any sort of grips with his situation. He
just looked... pissed.
Pissed at the world.
I really did not want to have to deal with him.
Then I was standing right in front of him, and I had this over-whelming
urge to squat down to be on his level, but that made me remember all the
times that Heero had done the same thing to me. I had hated it; it had
made me feel like a damn child or something. Having that sudden memory
well up, and then wrench around to show me things from the other side,
pretty much just left me standing there staring at Mickey with my jaw
working, trying to get my head back in the right reality and find words
And here I thought I'd given up the fish imitation.
Giles, God bless the man, only let the silence hang there for a moment
before he tossed in something appropriate. It was a greeting of some sort,
I couldn't tell you what, but there were echoes and things were finally
more like they should have been. I let words spill out, probably repeating
something I was hearing, and just felt bad for botching the moment. But
really... what the hell do you say?
'Sorry you're an idiot'?
'Wish I could say we missed you around here'?
'I told you so'?
Yeah... perhaps not.